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How to Motivate Teachers

In today’s school climate of high-stakes testing, large class sizes and rigid evaluation processes, it’s no surprise that many teachers are in need of motivation. Education journalist Aimee Hosler states, “Educators probably need more than a catered PTO lunch to feel reinvested in or impassioned by their work.” Administrators who are committed to retaining highly-qualified teachers are well aware of this fact. They understand the importance of motivating teachers who will, in turn, motivate their students.

How Teachers Feel

Teachers want to feel respected, valued, empowered and supported. Teachers who feel this way are willing to go the extra mile for the school and for their students.

  • One of the most frequently mentioned motivators for teachers is being respected by the administration. One area in which this is critical is when parents circumvent the teacher and go directly to the principal with their concern. A principal who respects all stakeholders will listen courteously to the parents with an open mind. Before making a decision or forming an opinion, however, the wise principal will bring in the teacher to balance the conversation before moving forward.
  • Another way in which administrators motivate teachers is by actively valuing their contributions to the conversation when decisions are made about school and district policies. If teachers feel their voices are not heard, they will stop contributing.
  • When teachers feel empowered to make decisions in their classrooms about issues like instruction and classroom management, they are motivated to make the best choices for their students. When they can use their professional wisdom and experience, teachers will naturally focus on the unique qualities of their students and do what is in their best educational interest.
  • Administrators who support their teachers with adequate supplies and equipment motivate teachers to make good use of these materials. Many teachers are expected to meet anticipated success rates when they are not given appropriate curriculum materials and must fend for themselves, often at their own expense.
  • In addition to material support, teachers feel supported when principals play an active role in student behavior issues. When administrators believe in their teachers, students see consistency and mutual respect. The end result of this unified effort is trust.

How Teachers Are Professionally Encouraged

A word of praise is always welcome to those who spend their days in the company of children with different needs and abilities. However, to a teacher, encouragement also means opportunities to improve professionally. Meaningful professional development offered free of charge, or with reimbursement benefits, is one of the most effective ways for teachers to improve their craft. Generic in-service presentations often serve no purpose and, in fact, can leave teachers feeling frustrated by the waste of time. However, self-selected presentations on issues most important to teachers motivate them to use what they learn to the benefit of their schools and students.

How Teachers Are Compensated

A 2011 Economic Policy Institute report found that teachers earn less than similarly educated professionals in other fields. Although teachers report that they are intrinsically motivated by the satisfaction of teaching, they do refer to higher pay as a motivator. In fact, the concept of fair and equitable pay as a teacher-motivator results in an interesting paradox.

The results of a survey conducted by psychologist Phyllis E. Goldberg, Ph.D., and leadership consultant Karen M. Proctor indicate that teachers do not desire more pay because they want more. According to the survey, teachers responded that:

“…there is much more to money than the mechanics of getting and spending. Among other things, money is used to measure social value. One survey respondent put it this way: ‘Our culture doesn’t value teachers. That’s obvious from the way they’re compensated for their work. (Society) pays the people we admire. It’s a vicious cycle: The less we’re paid, the less we’re valued, the less we’re paid.'”

Why Is It Important That Teachers Are Motivated?

When teachers see their work is relevant and meaningful, when they feel they have ownership, and when the work has value, they are more likely to be motivated. And according to Impact Teachers, a website devoted to creating outstanding schools, “A motivated teacher is crucial to a successful classroom. They will look at teaching through a different lens, and, in doing so, motivate their students in their learning too. Motivation helps to energize, direct and sustain positive behavior over a long period of time. It involves working toward goals and tailoring activities to achieving this purpose. It also helps to drive creativity and curiosity, sparking the desire needed for students to want to learn more.” Motivating teachers leads to motivated and more successful students.

Earning a Master of Science in Education in Educational Leadership from Northwest Missouri State University will provide the skills, tools and instruction to motivate teachers and “create quality educational experiences for all students by enlisting stakeholders in the development and implementation of a vision promoting a positive school culture.”

Learn more about Northwest Missouri’s online MS Ed. in Educational Leadership program.


National Association of Elementary School Principals: How Effective Principals Encourage Their Teachers

Education World: Six Ways to Really Motivate Teachers

Economic Policy Institute: The Teaching Penalty

The Edvocate: What Teachers Really Want From Their Administrators

Appletastic Learning: 19 Things Teachers Want Their Principal to Know

American Board Blog: Teacher Appreciation Week: How Teachers Make a Difference

Impact Teachers: Why a Motivated Teacher Is Key to the Classroom

Teacher Voices: A Survey on Teacher Recruitment and Retention

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